Friday, July 19

They had a project manager for the Duomo and Pantheon

I shared this article with the team the other day. I quote the abstract

This paper narrates the project management of the construction of the Florence Duomo by Filippo Brunelleschi in the fifteenth century. This was the most significant dome project in Europe in 1300 years, and possibly the most significant, innovative and complex project of the Renaissance era (Colombo and Lanzavecchia, 1997). It still stands as the largest brick dome ever built. In order to achieve what seemed technically impossible at the time, Brunelleschi researched and adapted the construction and project management of the Pantheon in Rome in the second century. The paper allows us in turn to learn both product and process innovation from this case study, both of which are essential to contemporary project management practice. The case is valuable in understanding key drivers of project management success, and illustrates the substantial potential for learning, and therefore knowledge transfer, from previous historical projects and experiences.

So I am a project manager as well, I deliver change. But even so, I cannot imagine project managing something like this.


this is the Pantheon. Well, the painting is better…the photographs don't show a good perspective. Massive structure. While I was there, I was dumbstruck…what an amazing building

And then the Duomo, I haven't seen this but its on my list, what an extraordinary building as well.


Now these architects and project managers are some to look up to! brilliant. One day I will deliver something like this I hope when I grow up!

Thursday, July 18

Colleges’ Stealth Tax on Family Savings

Its just recently that the UK (specifically England) has started charging for college education. Now its up to £9k per year (ouch!). But here’s an interesting perspective and connection to the savings rate in the USA. I quote:

Consider two young people who have identical potential for success in college based on high-school grades, test scores and so on. Let’s say both are accepted at an upscale private school costing $50,000 a year, or $200,000 for four years. Both kids come from moderately prosperous families with $125,000 in annual income. Student A comes from a family that saved a lot for college by scrimping, buying a modest $200,000 house and paying it off. This family has managed to accumulate $100,000 to defray much of their child’s college costs.

Student B comes from a big-spending family that has a $350,000 house with a big mortgage, and a vacation condo and nice cars, all bought with borrowed money. This family has no college-savings account as a consequence.

Colleges exploit this situation with the assistance of the federal government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which requires the student to give detailed family financial and other personal information -- income, debts, alimony payments, number of other dependent children and their age, and so on. The college uses this information to determine what the student will pay (up to the $50,000 sticker price).

Tuition Discounts

My guess, based on considerable anecdotal evidence, is that the student from the free-spending family will get a tuition discount of perhaps $25,000, while Student A will get only $10,000. Because that will probably apply for four years, Student A will end up paying $60,000 more than Student B -- solely because of the $100,000 in accumulated savings. The college is imposing the equivalent of a 60 percent tax on the income saved for college.

Moreover, to save $100,000 for college, Student A’s parents would probably have to earn about $150,000 because of taxes. So out of $150,000 in earnings, their child gets only $40,000 closer to paying for college than Student B.

Between real taxes and the private tax imposed by the college’s anti-savings policies, the financially prudent family has to pay more than 73 percent of earnings, a crushing burden that the free-spending family avoids by consuming, rather than saving their money.

But that isn’t all. Student B is forced to borrow more via the college-loan program, which the federal government subsidizes. The implicit value of that loan subsidy is greater to Student B than to Student A -- the federal government implicitly discriminates against those who are frugal and fiscally responsible. This doesn’t even include other anti-saving provisions in federal tax law, such as the impact of double taxation of income at the corporate and individual level.

I was kicking this around and it sort of making sense. This is an interesting situation. I am still struggling with whether or not I should fund my child’s education or let him fund it himself with his savings and debt. Leave aside the issue of means testing (which currently doesn't apply to fees but does apply to maintenance grants).  At this moment, the repayment rate is about inflation plus 3%. Say 5%. frankly, from a pure financial perspective, its better for him to go into debt and then use the investments to get a return which will generally be higher than this rate. There you go, arbitrage zindabad.

Wednesday, July 17

Have your lettuce, it will put lead in your pencil

I didn't know this! I quote:

Lettuce has been harvested for millenia—it was depicted by ancient Egyptians on the walls of tombs dating back to at least 2,700 B.C. The earliest version of the greens resembled two modern lettuces: romaine, from the French word “romaine” (from Rome), and cos lettuce, believed to have been found on the island of Kos, located along the coast of modern day Turkey. 

But in Ancient Egypt around 2,000 B.C., lettuce was not a popular appetizer, it was an aphrodisiac, a phallic symbol that represented the celebrated food of the Egyptian god of fertility, Min. (It is unclear whether the lettuce’s development in Egypt predates its appearance on the island of Kos.) The god, often pictured with an erect penis in wall paintings and reliefs was also known as the “great of love” as he is called in a text from Edfu Temple. The plant was believed to help the god “perform the sexual act untiringly.”


I think teenagers will be more happy to eat this if they are told that its going to help them boink!

I saw Min in the Petrie Museum the other weekend.


people were not very happy with the display of the erect Phallus and when it was first displayed in the early 20th century, it was covered by a label!

Interestingly, for many many years, the idea of seeing the nude was anathema to Europe. We have so many instances that nude statues or even examples of Min like the above had the phallus hidden. I came across another article here. The abstract:

This essay proposes that we question the current understanding of the Italian Renaissance nude by examining contemporaries’ perceptions of nakedness. Despite the importance of the nude for the development of Western art, there have been few studies that consider how the revival of the nude form in  fifteenth-century Italy was understood by people at the time.Most scholars, understandably, see the new fashion for portraying naked figures in the fifteenth century as a direct reflection of the enthusiasm for classical antiquity during this era. Without denying the crucial importance of antique precedents, I wish here to investigate another possibility: that travellers’ accounts of naked natives encountered on European voyages of exploration, particularly those to sub-Saharan Africa, influenced the creation of what has been called a ‘Renaissance anthropology’ – debates about the nature of mankind.This provided a new conceptual filter through which the nude figure was seen – and in some cases, these accounts may have directly affected the iconography of otherwise puzzling images.

Here’s an example of an iconic image

Masaccio, Expulsion from
Paradise, 1426. Fresco, 208 ×
88cm. Florence: Brancacci
Chapel, Santa Maria del


Interesting how our ideas of nudity change…this painting is in a chapel! So the painting was painted in 1425. Then around the 18th century, Cosimo Medici asked for fig leaves to be painted on the genitals to hide them. Then in 1980, the painting was cleaned and the fig leaves removed.


Tuesday, July 16

Welcome to Mogadishu

In one way son, Somalia should be a libertarian wet dream. Total or near total absence of the state. Which should leave individual rights all right? Self defence. Self reliance? And as this article says, the economy is ok with companies flourishing in the absence if the state. 

But then on the flip side you have a classic example of how societies cannot function when the mob takes over. It's the state that provides security. And that leads to durable institutions. Take the example of Egypt and Pakistan. Pakistan just completed one parliamentary term, despite the govt being totally corrupt. The new govt was sworn in. Best way forward. Institutions take time to build. At this moment, I have more hope for Pakistan than Egypt. Which basically has screwed itself. The promising beginning even with that idiotic Morsi was stopped in the middle. Now the secular liberal military backed idiots have basically created a bigger injury to Egypt than what Morsi and his beards ever could. 

Egypt has deep structural problems. And to think that a liberal secular new pm will be able to resolve exhibits a dangerous level of blindness. The incoming govt now has to deal with a pissed off large part of the electorate and the same if not worse economic and social problems, the financial aid from the gulf not withstanding. And given that its been established that mobs on the street can bring down governments for bad governance, the brothers will and can do the same. Result? Egypt's people have made a huge mistake. But revolutions,while exciting, take a very long time to repair the damage. All I can think is the quote, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 



Welcome to Mogadishu -

Despite the threats from Islamist militants, the Somali capital is bursting back to life

Boys repairing fishermen’s nets on Mogadishu seafront©Petterik Wiggers

Boys repairing fishermen’s nets on Mogadishu seafront

You can see where their heads hit the roof,” says a member of Somalia’s bomb squad. He is showing me pictures of the latest co-ordinated suicide attack. Even in the mess that mingles body parts of victims and perpetrators, the explosives team finds it easy to collect a suicide bomber’s DNA: you just look up. Red stains, splattered flesh and a pair of earphones are all that’s left of two al-Shabaab bombers who – posing as soldiers of the national army – detonated themselves at the entrance of a courthouse in the capital, Mogadishu in April.

After the initial explosions, more gunmen wearing suicide vests entered the building and went from room to room, assassinating people before blowing themselves up when they ran out of ammunition. Court workers cowered in rooms before escaping by ladder; altogether 60 people were killed, estimates the man showing me the photos. The attack was the work of Islamist militants, allied to al-Qaeda, who emerged in the mid-2000s as the biggest threat to Somalia – 15 years after the former Italian colony started tearing itself apart in a civil war which has yet to end.

Monday, July 15

Celebrating Volunteers at Home Start Hillingdon

So we had the annual summer celebration of our volunteers at Home start Hillingdon. Its a wonderful occasion, we see the amazing ladies and gentlemen who have their own children but also take time out of their busy lives to help families in distress. More interestingly and very thankfully, we had the Mayor of Hillingdon who popped over to give the certificates to the volunteers. Along with his utterly delightful and fragrant lady wife, Mrs. Mayor who was wonderful. She just made sure we were all comfortable and both went around to each table making them comfortable.

As soon as I get the photo’s, I will post them. The stories they tell about the families we support. Wonderful people, all. Here’s a great story by a volunteer. We also celebrated the 10 year anniversary of our charity administrator. Wonderful lady, she is a quiet lady, but everything else is well managed and runs and hums smoothly. She is amazing, very impressed. We are going through a spot of recruitment for the charity. Are you interested to become a trustee? Let me know.

In other news, popped over to Manchester to lecture a wee bit. Also working on bits and bobs with Essex and Swansea. I realised that I didn't do much with Disha for some time now, but have asked Ma to find out if they need something, perhaps a library? that would be good. Also attended a mentoring session for start-up technology companies wanting to sell into the financial sector, I'm most probably going to end up mentoring couple of companies. What else? Mentoring of students from London, Essex, Manchester and Swansea goes on.

And I'm hoping we can do something with the abandoned animals at the Mayhew with the firm…lets see if I can arrange for a bit of a fund raiser at work..And here’s a great post on the Mayhew blog. See the eyes of this little doggie.


This is her story

Help Us Stop the Cruelty


It is generally said that Britain is a ‘nation of animal lovers’ but, sadly, The Mayhew feels we must question this claim in the face of growing levels of animal neglect and abandonment.

Instead of more animals finding happy homes we are admitting more stray cats and dogs, receiving more calls about animal abandonment and finding only a few microchipped animals that can be reunited with a caring owner.

Our Animal Welfare Officers and Clinic staff are helping increasing numbers of pet owners whose personal or financial circumstances have left them unable to care for their cat or dog and who need assistance with basic, preventative care.
This country’s financial difficulties touch all areas of everyday life and this is affecting innocent animals, with pets increasingly being considered ‘non-essential’ when it comes to spending money. The Mayhew strives to help both animals and their carers without judging their circumstances. We encourage owners to come to us for assistance to try and avoid devastating cases like Deirdre and Buddy; two animals who learnt first-hand exactly what it means to become surplus to requirement.

Make a one-off donation to help us fight animal cruelty

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Deirdre’s story
Deirdre arrived in late April after she was found struggling and alone on the streets of London. Our vets estimated that she was around 13 years old and in dire need of medical attention. Without identification, there was no one around to provide this elderly girl with the care and treatment she needed. Deirdre was very malnourished, extremely weak in both her back legs and reluctant to stand up or move around. She was distressed, confused and clearly in pain. Even after pain relief medication, some tempting food, a warm bed and plenty of TLC, she was still at rock bottom.

deirdre2Our charity’s ethos is to help every animal we can and so, regardless of her age and poor condition, our vets carried out a thorough health check and tests to see if we could give this girl a second chance at happiness. Sadly, in addition to a range of other debilitating illnesses, Deirdre’s tests indicated that cancer was likely. Despite the security, safety and comfort she was given at The Mayhew Deirdre simply refused to eat. Already withdrawn she shut down even further and it became evident that she no longer wished to face the life that had treated her so cruelly.

Our round-the-clock care ensured that Deirdre was comfortable and given the palliative care needed for her condition. However in the face of her mental and physical deterioration and, with recovery no longer being an option, our vets took the decision to give a peaceful and dignified end to a life that had become engulfed in suffering and misery.

It is always hard for us at The Mayhew when we see cases like these and even harder to tell our supporters about them, however these are the realities that we are dealing with on an increasingly frequent basis. It is vital that we continue to be there for those who cannot help themselves, who need us right at the end in order to bring them peace and relieve their pain.
But it is not only those at the end of their lives that need our help. We must also be there for animals who have hardly been in this world longer than the blink of an eye but who are already struggling with debilitating pain.